The woman in the long purple dress and matching hat looked perplexed as she approached the brace of Chicago Police Department officers lined up in the service lot of Hamlin Park, 3035 N. Hoyne.
“What’s going on?” she asked loudly. “Is the mayor here?”
He was not, but she could be forgiven some confusion. She’d stumbled into the tail end of what neighbors say was the first outdoor police roll call in memory at the park. The show of force Saturday night by about two dozen members of the Chicago Police Department’s 19th District was the latest response to reports of gang activity in and around the park, including a shootout with police less than two weeks ago.
Hamlin Park Neighbors president Charlie Beach says the roll call was a suggestion of new 19th District Commander Elias Voulgaris, who was sworn in last week to replace previous Cmdr. John Kenny. Voulgaris is a 28-year CPD veteran most recently stationed at the Tenth District serving Little Village and Lawndale. “It’s good to have someone interested and active,” Beach said. “We appreciate the new commander being so pro-active and doing this for us.”
The Hamlin Park Neighbors group has worked for nearly a year to bring police attention to the actions of a small but persistent gang that has claimed the park for decades. Chicago police significantly increased their presence in the neighborhood following a shooting back in March near Fletcher and Hoyne. Reports of non-domestic crime had dropped since that shooting, and neighbor Delisa Maney says she’s never felt unsafe in the two years she’s lived near the park.
“I work from home, so I’m here all the time, and it is so quiet that I forget I’m in the city,” she said before Saturday’s roll call. “I’ve always felt safe…I walk around here with my daughter all the time and I’ve never felt threatened.”
Maney lives in the 2200 block of West Barry Street, where police say two men shot at officers early on the morning of September 11th in an incident that began on Clybourn Avenue. One suspect, 21-year-old Luis Zapata, lives near the park on North Seeley Avenue and has an extensive criminal record.
Cmdr. Voulgaris told the officers and the roughly 30 neighbors who attended Saturday night’s outdoor roll call that the show of force, complete with police cars’ flashing blue lights, was designed to send a clear message to gang members operating in the area. “We’re here to support the residents that care,” he said. Cmdr. Voulgaris also promised increased activity going forward, including unannounced blitzes designed to keep gang members off guard.
The roll call ended with applause from the neighbors, many of whom brought their children out on a cool fall evening. The tardy woman with the purple dress had moved on, but officers and neighbors engaged in friendly chats as the roll call broke up and officers returned to their cars and their beats. Afterward, Beach said he thought the show of force was a hit with the neighbors. “They appreciate the police officers coming out and how difficult their job is,” he said.